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the Goliard
Volume 1 Issue 7

August 2002

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Original Writings 

[What's This All About?]

 

The Night Guy Series

Part 7 - Concerning the Hypothalmus, the graveyard shift and the state of things  

The graveyard shift can wreak havoc on the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus, by way of sudden and unexpected secretions, can then pass that same havoc on to a body, psyche and social life. Studies conducted on Black Jack dealers, swing shift miners, and convenience store clerks, occupations where intermittent sleepless nights are the norm, have revealed that when hypothalami are robbed of the chance to shut down and recharge on something of a regular basis, endless and subtle unpleasantness can result. They may span from hot flashes, lethargy, and despondency or head all the way towards homicidal, prayer recital, and suicidal, tendencies. Nate can vouch for all this. It seems the glands crave a semblance of routine even as the mind warns against it.

Nate's first experience with the graveyard shift came when he took a job at a poorly managed yet immensely popular Tennis and Swim Club called The White Dove of the Desert. The Dove was overseen by one Ms. EquiAnne Crabbe. Ms. Crabbe was a matriarchal henpecker, brain washed by so many warring self help groups and EST seminars that she had long ago forfeited any hope of functioning in any normal capacity. Her husband, it is said, disappeared with one of their maids and most of their money leaving her little except ownership of the Dove and a large, secluded dwelling that stood just off the club's grounds which was where she lived. The proximity of the house, which nobody Nate knew had ever been inside of, made it ridiculously easy for her to come creeping through a back gate at all hours of the day or night, to use the facilities and check up on things. Her property seemed to be guarded by a cacophony of baying hounds, forever heard but never actually seen. She kept the Dove open around the clock to fit her own psychoneurotic schedule. 

Nate had taken the job during a time when he was mulling over some new life choices which involved dropping out of college and overseeing his own learning, and since he was fairly sure that neither of his parents would agree to finance an education that didn't have an accredited institution at least titularly associated with it, he began looking for ways to earn his own keep. Nate had a group of friends whose parents were members of the White Dove and he would periodically accompany them to the bar when they offered to charge a few pitchers of beer on the family account. While his friends leered at debutantes and dreamed of being lifeguards, Nate found that he was curiously observing the night guys who would just be coming on shift as the bar was closing up. 

Nate envied them not because they cut fine figures or looked in any way impressive, in fact they were unanimously the most ghostly collection of tousled, anti-social employees you could expect to find at an expensive health club. Exuding from their disheveled personas however, was that certain affected mental calm found in folks who, though they have identified the world as being an off kilter and heinously unjust place to live, have figured out that as long as one retains a certain cynicism about everything, and professes a smug foothold, everything can be seen as copasetic. This confuses others of course since there is no apparent evidence to support this attitude in their lifestyles or accomplishments. Nate never saw one of these night guys doing anything other than sitting back, listening to music with their feet propped up and reading subversive literature. This seemed like a job description he could work with as it represented getting paid for doing what he had been spending most of his time lately doing anyway. In fact Nate had coveted something along the same lines since it had become clear that he wasn't getting any trust fund and would have to work for his keep someday. 

Nate was drinking in the club bar one night with a few of the aforementioned friends and feeling a little bolder than usual as he came down the stairs to find one of the night guys reclining behind the front desk with his moccasin clad feet hanging over a stack of folded towels. He wore that same vapid expression seen on casino employees, beat cops, night watchmen, toll booth attendants, mini-mart clerks, and others forced to perform in the public view with little or no sleep. His chin was in his hand and his elbow rested on an impressive stack of magazines. 

"How's it going," Nate offered, testing the waters. "Working hard?" The night guy didn't smile or say anything, but looked Nate over coolly from just above his wire rims as if he suspected that Nate might not be a paying member and therefore posed him no risk. 

"Doesn't look like a bad way to earn a buck," Nate tried again. 

"That's about what I'm making." The night guy took his chin out of his hand and itched the beginnings of a beard. 

"Well at least you don't have to do that much." 

"Oh she gets what she pays for, believe me. I've done worse for less and probably will again." said the night guy, tilting back his head and peering beneath his glasses with bloodshot eyes to make a closer examination of the irritant before him. "Specially now that I've joined the goddamn army." He added this rather suddenly as if he was short of breath. 

"What? The army?" Nate said in surprise as his inflated image of night guys lost a little air. "I didn't envision graveyard folk as the type to join armies.

 "What are you talking about?" The night guy said leaning forward. "The graveyard shift was first dubbed as such by the very army you malign. In World War II it was, by the night watchmen at the munitions dumps. Most people know that. If you insist on standing before me and talking, I'll at least have to ask you to give more consideration to what you say." 

"I guess that makes sense," Nate said, realizing that there could be more polished ways to make friends than insulting a man at a time when he's just signed on a dotted line that effectively forfeits his freedom. Nate tried to recover. "At least you're reading Soldier of Fortune." 

The night guy flipped the magazine over and seemed surprised by the cover which pictured a maniacal, soot stained character peering out of some foliage and looking as if he were a Luftwaffe pilot who had been forced to eject from his Sopwith Camel only to find himself somewhere in Harlem. The night guy put the magazine on the floor, balled his fists, and rubbed his eyes in a manner that looked practiced. "Yeah I guess I was reading Soldier of Fortune, I gotta get prepared for basic training somehow. I even tried to eat some meat the other day. Tossed it up immediately though." 

"Meat?" Nate asked. 

"Yep, threw it right up. I've been a vegetarian for seven years you know." He looked woefully down at his gut. 

"Well what's stopping you from..." 

"Oh come on. Do you think they're going to tolerate that shit in the army mess halls. If I don't learn to eat meat again I'll barely eat at all." 

"Why did you say you joined again?" 

"I had to do something. I'm twenty nine now and needed to get in soon in order to qualify for the officer's program." 

"Don't you need a degree?" Nate asked, hoping to seem interested. He'd known people before who had lost all hope of ever being able to discipline themselves and signed on with some branch of the service. 

"Oh I have a degree," said the night guy nonchalantly. "Two in fact, with some post grad work thrown in but how far is comparative literature or philosophy going to get me these days? Nobody gives a damn about any kind of literature anymore for one thing, so why would they want it compared to another culture's literature which they don't give a damn about either. I wish I could stay in school but I just can't afford it. The humanities are dead today anyway. Everything is computers, communication, and new technology this and that. I probably should have studied engineering or something but I hate that shit." 

"True, true you know, geez" Nate stuttered, not knowing what to say. "I think I'm facing a little of the same stuff myself," He finally added feebly. "Say, you must be quitting this job soon then. I could really use something like this, a job where I could just read all the time. I'm up half the night as it is."

"Oh I'm quitting alright. I couldn't very well commute over here at night from Fort Dix or Ord or where ever it is that the spit shiners are sending me. So I'll be quitting. Unless I get stationed at Fort Lowell." 

Fort Lowell is one of Tucson's oldest streets and dates to the days of the Conquistadors when it was a wagon trail running past an adobe fort that housed the U.S. Calvary and Nate laughed politely at the reference. The night guy's manner seemed to have cooled a bit since being asked about the job and Nate figured it was because he had inadvertently reminded him that he was headed for one of those major life changes that hadn't really hit him yet. Most people face some future unpleasantness that they don't want to think about. 

"Well, who would I talk to about working here? I'd probably want to get my name in before your big induction day." Nate tried to sound cheerful but the night guy seemed annoyed as he jotted Ms. Crabbe's name on a slip that had "Discuss Lost Towels" written on the other side. According to the night guy, Crabbe usually came in to swim early in the morning. Without saying anything else, he reassumed the pose, and picked a new magazine from the stack. Nate noticed it was a Mother Jones. 

"Thanks," Nate said heading for the door. "Maybe I'll see you in the morning."

Nate overslept and never saw the night guy again but got the job and did his best to carry the night guy baton. 

Nate's responsibilities, as it turned out, included a few rote accounting type tasks and towel washing but the whole thing boiled down to basically staying awake and making sure that nobody trespassed or damaged the facility in any way. The Dove was kept open twenty four hours a day to support Ms. Crabbe's aforementioned neurosis and because it was cheaper to pay a guy like Nate a few bucks to sit around all night then it was to hire a night watchman, as well as get someone to be responsible for shutting everything down, locking all the doors, closing all the gates, turning off the lights and then someone else to reopen everything in the morning. The bar usually stayed open until eleven or so and other than the night janitors, a few members who worked as bartenders or waiters and came in after work to exercise and unwind, or the odd inebriated couple stumbling in to use the hot tubs or steam room, Nate had the place pretty much to himself. 

Nate survived manning that graveyard shift for nearly two years before he was fired, or that is before he burned down the club, assumed he would be fired and stopped showing up for work. He stayed with it that long because he hated looking for jobs more than he hated not sleeping at night and providing he could keep his eyes open, was able to read for eight or nine hours at a stretch. Nate looked at the whole experience as an opportunity at being paid to absorb what he could of the canon. He got his hands on a copy of this list of outstanding and essential literature for the college graduate and started plowing through it, checking off books as he read them. One by one. 

Nate's romantic view of the graveyard lifestyle quickly evaporated when he ended up not dropping out of school and for the first year, which was his sophomore year, although at state universities anymore, yearly designations are hardly worth mentioning, he worked every other night and continued to attend classes during the day. He figured that he was young enough to fool his body with denial, work his ten hour shift, clock out at eight a.m., stumble into the Arizona sunshine and head to school just like he'd had a good night's rest. This plan failed, needless to say, and Nate ended up somnambulating the year away, a shell of his former self with what felt like a constant sinus headache. 

His irregular schedule soon had him nodding off when he was supposed to be alert and sitting bolt upright when he should have been sleeping. It seemed necessary as well to up his intake of caffeine and alcohol in order to accelerate the process of landing and taking off, a trap which only served to heighten his deterioration as the residual effects of the two drugs played tug-o-war with his system. Since fatigue had rapidly gained the upper hand, he fulfilled a boyhood dream by training himself to chew tobacco without vomiting in order to give the stimulant side of things a little added support.

One night, after a few months had gone by, Nate had ducked away from work on a nightly sojourn to the Quik Mart up the street for coffee, a bag of Levi Garrett, a magazine, or whatever else he craved or thought might help him get by. As he walked in, he paused and found himself staring with awe into the sallow pallor of a poor cadaverous bastard with Stu etched on his cockeyed nametag who, like Nate was spending the wee hours on the time clock. A glass display case separated the two of them and Stu seemed too tired to notice as Nate regarded him with a curious pity. Suddenly, as the addled worker bent down to retrieve the Penthouse that had slid out of his hands when he nodded off, Nate found the attendant's pasty countenance replaced in the glass with his own reflection. Stu eventually righted himself, and Nate was able to focus in and out from Stu's face to his own and grew quickly disturbed by the eerie similarity. He realized some changes needed to be made. 

So when the spring semester had ended and the summer heat began to swelter, Nate decided to institute what the few friends he had left soon dubbed, "the troglodyte approach". He moved out of a multi-roommate house and into a studio apartment. He put tin foil over the windows, kept the swamp cooler on high, and made an effort to stay up nights, and sleep days, whether he was working or not. Sleeping away the dark hours, he reasoned was a tradition born of man's pre-electricity need to see what he was doing and in a day in age of fluorescent lighting, 24 hour bank machines, gas stations, and convenience stores, Nate felt it was a tradition he could easily eschew. He learned quickly however that for a troglodyte not lucky enough to have access to a true cave, buttressed on three sides by solid granite and hidden high in the hills, sleeping uninterrupted while the rest of the world is awake borders on the impossible. Unplug the phone and the doorbell rings. Hang a Do Not Disturb sign on the door but the neighborhood kids still carry on. Construction hammers, trash pick up, Machinery with back up warning devices that pierce the air like alarm clocks, buddies that drop by simply to be obnoxious, and those backpack, Ghostbuster, dust blowing machines that sound like chain saws and seem to be brandished by mechanical fiends with oily rags in their ears completely oblivious to the racket they make who have been ordered to blow dust and leaves from one place to another by bosses sitting in an office somewhere totally removed from the resulting din.

Eventually it became clear that no healthy solution existed and, like many people seem to do in their lives, Nate simply slogged on through the murk the best he could by watching late night movies on cable, napping in class, and being unable to concentrate on anything except the reading he took with him to work. By the time of his departure from the Dove, he had become so addled by his schedule, yet addicted to the time he had to read, that he stumbled through his days in the fictional world of an inebriated zombie. The friends that he hadn't lost complete contact with would shake their heads when they ran into him and suggest that he reevaluate his lifestyle or at the very least, start sleeping at work. 

For some weird ethical reason though, he never could nap on the clock. Just enough happened with insomniac members, telephones, and janitors that it wouldn't have been worth it. Nate was living poorly but at least it took almost no effort. He was making minimum wage. 

Minimum wage incidentally, was stubborn during the Reagan years and at 3.35 an hour, lagged sadly behind the only corresponding monetary measure that, at least in Nate's mind, it had any responsibility to keep abreast with, namely the average price of a pitcher of beer. At the pubs, dives and sports bars that Nate wandered into, which had in common good jukeboxes, bad lighting, and free popcorn, a pitcher ran a fellow right around four dollars. When the economic forces in society don't view a good sized pitcher of cheap draft at the corner bar as equal in value to an honest hour of work Nate figured that the time may well be nigh for shouting in the streets. Not being much of the shouting kind, he eventually succumbed to the growing pressure to adjust for the discrepancy in other ways, and it was this very thinking which led indirectly to the events of New Year's Eve. 

Because Nate's troglodytic existence had delivered him to this strange place in life, because his parents, for the most part, were only around monetarily, because his high school girlfriend had left him for good when she accepted that he had accepted a nocturnal existence, because he conducted any business he had at convenience stores and bars whose chief attraction was that they stayed open and unchanged 365 days a year, and because he conversed almost exclusively with janitors, night watchmen, and other warped and wan creatures of the night, what would commonly be known as the holiday season of 1985 was having virtually no effect on him. 

So between the Thanksgiving encounter with Hugo and New Year's Eve, Nate had nothing better to do then immerse himself in goliards. He had soon read everything he could find about them, had sent away for other books, and in the mean time investigated any contemporary stuff he came across that seemed similar in style. Nate sensed that he was preparing for something. A new life. A new calling. Any life. Any calling, and even though he had no real idea of what the coming change might entail, his situation was as ripe for it as situations get.

 

Copyright 2002. All Rights Reserved.